In Lebanon, pope decries arms flow into Syria

Pope Benedict XVI (right) speaks with Patriarch Gregarious Laham in Beirut. The pontiff called himself "a pilgrim of peace." HUSSEIN MALLA / AP
Pope Benedict XVI (right) speaks with Patriarch Gregarious Laham in Beirut. The pontiff called himself "a pilgrim of peace." HUSSEIN MALLA / AP
Posted: September 15, 2012

BEIRUT - Pope Benedict XVI arrived in the Lebanese capital Friday as anti-U.S. protests convulsed the region and fighting with sectarian overtones raged in neighboring Syria.

The pontiff, calling himself "a pilgrim of peace," denounced as a "grave sin" the transfer of weapons from any country to Syria, where rebels armed in part with smuggled weapons are waging a violent campaign to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

"The import of weapons has to finally stop," Benedict, who is on a three-day trip to Lebanon, reportedly told journalists Friday. "Without the import of arms, the war cannot continue. Instead of importing weapons, which is a grave sin, we have to import ideas of peace and creativity."

Meanwhile, the fast-expanding protests against a video made in the United States ridiculing the prophet Muhammad spread Friday to the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, a hotbed of conservative Islamists.

Demonstrators in Tripoli set fire to a U.S. fast-food outlet, chanted slogans assailing the United States and the pope, and tore down banners and posters welcoming the pontiff, according to the Daily Star, a Beirut English-language daily. One person was reportedly killed in clashes between protesters and Lebanese security forces.

All of Lebanon's religious groups, including parties representing Sunni Muslims and Hezbollah, the Shiite organization, have welcomed the pope's visit. Christians make up more than one-third of Lebanon's population, the highest proportion in any Middle East nation. Various sects and political factions have worked out a power-sharing arrangement that has, in recent years, helped keep the peace.

The pope did not specify any nation or individual as an arms supplier to Syria. But he unequivocally condemned the widespread trafficking of weapons into the beleaguered country.

His comments come against a backdrop of a booming arms trade that has helped fuel the rebellion in Syria. Weapons smuggled into Syria from neighboring countries, including Lebanon, have been a key source of arms for rebel forces.

In addition to his comments about Syria, the pope praised the "Arab Spring" uprisings and told reporters the revolts were a result of a "desire for more democracy, for more freedom, for more cooperation, and for a renewed Arab identity."

Some minority Christians in Egypt and other nations fear that the ouster of secular strongmen such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi has resulted in a wave of religious intolerance toward Christians and other minorities.

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